A Matter of Perspective , available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

A Matter of Perspective


July 11, 2011

I think the older we get the more we realize that life is not entirely black and white.  In fact we are faced with a whole lot of grey situations.

Case in point: our recent Fourth of July family vacation.  A whole lot went wrong, but there sure were a lot of opportunities to look for what was going right.  Here are two ways of looking at each of our “unique opportunities.”

Perspective one: Smashing two totally different experiences (beach getaway and camping trip) into one outing is not a good idea.  Packing a family of five for BOTH a camping trip AND a beach vacation significantly pushes the limits of what our vehicle can comfortably accommodate.  There was no room to play with.  Also, when we were at the campsite we were annoyed by the beach toys we had packed; and when we were at the timeshare we were frustrated with the tents and sleeping bags that we no longer needed.

Perspective two: A coworker generously offered us two nights for our family at a timeshare on the Washington State coast.  We took the opportunity to tag on an extra night camping in a national forest we had been wanting to see.  We got to enjoy some of the great outdoors and then have two nights of a little luxury.

Perspective one: We went camping, had a microscopic campsite and it rained all night.

Perspective two: Even though we arrived at our campsite later in the evening, there was plenty of light and time to set up camp and take a walk on the nearby beach.  Oscar built one of the best campfires I have ever seen (and it may have been the very first time he has even tried).  I made two of the best s’mores I have ever eaten.  We all got ready for bed, snuggled in and zipped up before the rain started.  We were dry all night in our tents and the rain stopped in time for breakfast in the morning.

Perspective one: A deer tried to take out our car, leaving an enormous dent in the rear passenger door.

Perspective two: As we were entering a sleepy Washington coast town we got to see a little wild life up close and personally.  Unexpectedly, an otherwise docile deer walking along the side of the road, suddenly decided to try to jump through Simon’s door (we think it must have wanted his goldfish crackers).  It was pretty funny until we saw the damage when we got to the grocery store.  Then it was funny again after we took a toilet plunger to the dent and actually pulled almost the whole thing out.  Now THAT is a memory maker!

Perspective one: This is an icky tourist trap of a town with really dirty beaches, really bad traffic control, and far too much wind to be comfortable even when it is clear and sunny.

Perspective two: Our room is full of amazing luxuries, it is sunnier than it has been all summer, and our coworker and her family welcomed us with dinner and passes to the local heated pool.

Perspective one: Some vacation.  We are uncomfortable and fairly far from home.

Perspective two: We have great adventures together as a family even when we are uncomfortable and fairly far from home. Nothing says we have to stay in a less than ideal situation.  Let’s go home.

So that’s what we did.  We left a night early and got to see close to ten different fireworks shows as we drove through towns on the interstate.  It was magical.  At least from my perspective.  And sometimes that is all it takes in family life.  Same objective reality but a little shift in mindset and “profane” turns into “sacred.”

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My Core Sin

My Core Sin

My main New Year’s resolution this year was to figure out and name my weaknesses.

I started with simply taking a good hard look at what I think I have heard most often as the challenging sides of my personality, whether in work performance reviews or personal relationships. Joshua, of course, was very useful in confirming or nuancing those insights (and adding a few of his own). Then I turned to those friends nearest and dearest to me.

I have had to proceed carefully to get some substantive feedback. The problem, of course, is that folks are generally far too kind and thus struggle to be completely honest in naming another person’s shortcomings.

Almost everything I have learned—almost every insight I have received—points back, more or less, to one core foible: control. The vast majority of my weaknesses, at least as those who know me best experience them, stem from some element of control.

In April, David Brooks wrote an article called “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. He names the characteristics of those people he experiences as “radiating an inner light” or who are “deeply good.” He noticed that such people have been profoundly honest about their own weaknesses and can identify their “core sin.” He names a core sin as a consistent weakness that makes them feel ashamed. The act of naming this sin, according to Brooks, helps them achieve “a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

I found the article affirming since, by the time of my reading it, I could confidently name my “core sin” as control. I also thought it put some helpful language on why it is a worthwhile endeavor to identify our central downfall.

First, from our Catholic point of view, we understand “sin” to be fundamentally a break from God. When we sin, we separate ourselves from the fullness of communion with God. When I attempt to impose disproportionate amounts of control on my environment—or worse, on the people around me—I am most often exerting my will over and against others. At worst this can be damaging. At best it is severely lacking in humility.

Second, using the next helpful element of Brooks’ article: when we are able to name and own our core sin, it frees us for a “profound humility.” We see and acknowledge our most broken parts, which, in turn, allows us to recognize how that brokenness impacts others.

I realized when I read Brooks’ statement about “self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness” that possibly our core sins may simply be the shadow side to some of our greatest natural strengths. I think that, left unchecked (or perhaps inappropriately oriented), our most unique God-given talents have the capacity to become our most glaring weaknesses.

That is to say, control is my core sin, but it is also the shadow side of my greatest gift at home and work: clear-sighted, comprehensive order. When I humbly put that gift at the service of our family and those I work with and train, it IS a gift. When I wield it unchecked by consultation and in single-minded isolation it separates me from others and from God by breaking down relationships instead of building them up.

Josh shared with me that his core sin is intemperance. There are obvious ways that intemperance can be destructive and unhelpful. But in its most helpful and healthy iteration, it leads Josh (and those lucky enough to be with him) to experience joy fully and unabashedly, to have an unreserved sense of curiosity and wonder, and an utter willingness to give new and unknown experiences a try.

In an interesting twist, you might notice that my core sin, control, and Josh’s core sin of intemperance are pretty much exact opposites. This is likely no shock to anyone who has ever met both of us or heard us give a presentation together. Although they seem utterly at odds, I think our very opposite dispositions allow us to call one another to very specific areas of growth. You could even go so far as to say where we are weakest the other is strongest. In that way, we get to incarnate grace for each other, to call each other to be the best version of ourselves.

After all, isn’t it part of our job as spouses to help one another shed light on our shadow sides? Without that light, how can we hope to grow?

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